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ARTS 1301 / 2346 / 2347 SO Green: Getting Started

Starting Your Research

Getting Started

What are primary sources?

Primary sources:

  • provide first-hand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation without evaluation or interpretation.  
  • contain the information from which a secondary or tertiary source is derived and are written by someone directly involved in the historical event or primary research. 
  • include original documents such as diaries, speeches, letters, audio transcripts, emails, autobiographies, and interviews
  • include creative works such as photographs, novels, poetry, music, and artworks 

Source: University of Maryland Libraries

How do I find primary sources? 

Finding primary sources in the catalog is easier when you know the words used to describe them.

Author Search:
If you know the name of an individual or an organization search it as the author in the library catalog.
Enter personal names as Last Name, First Name
"da Vinci, Leonard" is helpful to get books written by him instead of about him.


Advanced Keyword Search: 
These terms can be added to your search to help describe a type of primary source you want to find.

  • archives
  • abstract
  • abstract expressionism
  • baroque
  • documentary
  • images
  • interview
  • letters
  • papers
  • personal narrative
  • speeches
  • sources

Example Advanced Keyword Search:
(abstract OR canvas OR baroque) AND (diaries OR theme OR sources)
Results of this search include e-books containing the biography and interviews as well as artwork by the Artists.


Subject Search:
Usually, library catalogs have at least one Subject describing the general topic of the item. Subjects may be subdivided to indicate time period, or format. Some of the Subject subdivisions that may indicate an item is a primary source include interviews and sources.

Example Subject Search:
Painting Gothic -- Painting Medieval -- Painting Modern ---Painting Renaissance  -- Art History -- Sculpture -- Sources
The results of this search include essays and other primary sources written by activists throughout the art history.

What about Secondary Sources?

Secondary Sources:

  • provide analysis and interpretation of the primary source.
  • are one or more steps removed from the original event. 
  • may have pictures, quotations, or graphics from the original source.
  • include textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, and commentaries.

Examples of Secondary Sources:

  • your history textbook
  • a biography of Benjamin Franklin or any other famous American
  • a book which explains the effects of the Revolutionary War
  • an article which includes analysis of a historical event


Source: Princeton University 

How do I if a resource is scholarly (or academic)?

Scholarly sources are often written by professors, researchers, and experts in the field with advanced degrees. They are written for other scholars, professionals, and students. Scholarly resources also use technical language of the field, almost always have a list of references, and often provide research findings and statistics.

What about popular sources?

Popular Sources:

  • are for the general population
  • avoid technical terminology and use easy-to-understand language
  • usually do not have bibliographies or references
  • often written by staff writers with little specialized knowledge
  • are written for entertainment and general knowledge

Source: Cornell University 

Courstesy of John M. Pfau Library, California State University, San Bernardino

Understanding Your Assignment

Understanding the Assignment (2:59 min)
Courtesy Clifton L. Fowler Library, CCU

Primary Vs Secondary

In this video, you will learn how to develop a good research topic. (4:33 min) Courtesy  od Kansas State University Library